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Genetic researchers are overwhelmingly focused on white populations, which could have negative implications for the health of minorities, Vocativ reports.
The report cites a new op-ed in the journal Nature that found that 81% of participants were of European descent (white) and only 19% non-European descent in all scientific studies that “correlated a genetic mutation with a particular disease.” The white participant percentage, while down from 96% in the same analysis in 2009, means minorities remain vastly underrepresented.
In fact, less than 1% of genetic research had Hispanic-descent participants in 2016.
Only 3% of participants were of African descent.
Genetic research can uncover the causes of many diseases, and allow scientists to create drugs to treat the underlying conditions. Treatments are increasingly targeting a patient’s particular genetic makeup, called precision medicine.
“Without genetic information from minorities, researchers might miss mutations that are less common in European populations,” according to the Vocativ report.
The Vocativ report, which cites the logistical complexities of diverse study cohorts and minorities access to or mistrust of scientific research as causes for the lack of genetic research diversity, also indicates some solutions:
To correct this, the authors suggest that the organizations funding genomic research prioritize work in non-European populations. Researchers themselves can include greater diversity in their cohorts and move away from studies focusing on traits and genetic variations that are already well understood. Clinics in black and Hispanic neighborhoods can provide greater access to genetic testing in order to build trust. “A culture shift is required at every level,” the researchers write. Only then can scientists ensure that everyone can get the treatments they need.
Read the op-ed in Nature.
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